McCoy's milestone will remain unmatched in any sporting discipline
No milestone in the safer sports of football, cricket, tennis or golf could exceed the splendour of Tony McCoy's 4,000 winners over jumps. Uninsurable, the great AP is also unsurpassable.
Boxing, rugby or motor racing might come to the debate with examples of comparable physical stubbornness. But after 15,000 or so races and a thousand falls – after 18 consecutive jockeys' titles and 24 years in the saddle – McCoy is first past the post in sport's Daily Courage Stakes. His food-deprived, bone-breaking, mud-speckled routine has stretched far beyond the limits of normal endurance.
Just as strikingly, McCoy's appetite for throwing horses over hurdles and steeplechase fences ought to have been sated long ago – at 3,000 winners, say.
On the day another dark-eyed hero of the winter game, Peter Scudamore, retired in April 1993, with a then record 1,678 winners, he said: "I'd look down the list of runners in novice chases and I'd think that I didn't want to risk injury. I just wasn't in the right frame of mind for chasing titles any more. It was coming towards the end of the season, and quite honestly I didn't feel like putting in 100pc effort anymore."
Scudamore was 34 when he offered that valediction on his eight jockeys' titles. McCoy is 39 and closing in on his 19th crown. Richard Dunwoody, who succeeded 'Scu' as the nation's leading National Hunt pilot, quit in December 1999 after a fall the previous year left him with a persistent neck injury and a loss of strength in his right arm.
Top jump jockeys are often insatiably restless and thrill-addicted. Dunwoody filled the void in his life by trekking 673 miles to the South Pole and signing up for a 350-mile cross-country ski race to the Magnetic North Pole, during which he twice dislocated a shoulder.
Another charitable challenge was to walk the same mile in Newmarket a thousand times. Not surprisingly Dunwoody called his autobiography 'Obsessed'.
These driven, number-chasing sons of racing's modern age were preceded by a generation of Corinthians and carousers who never conceived National Hunt racing in statistical terms.
John Francome, perhaps the most artistic of all riders over obstacles, won the first of his seven titles in 1976 with 96 wins. In 2002 McCoy ended a marathon campaign with 289. Scudamore's 221 in 1988-89 was feted as a sporting miracle, inspiring a book, by Dudley Doust.
McCoy has trampled all those amazing records, leaving a golden generation in his wake. Ruby Walsh, his main big-race rival, has ridden better horses than McCoy at the Cheltenham Festival and Aintree, but is nowhere near his friend and rival's numbers.
In any other era, Richard Johnson, who has booted home more than 2,500 winners, would be champion by rote. For those who have ridden in McCoy's shadow, 18 consecutive titles is an almost sadistic expression of one man's dominance.
At two stone below his natural body weight, McCoy is forever outside the bounds of normal human functioning. Any one of his dozens of bone breaks might have pushed him over the edge. Instead he treats fractures as mere restraints of trade, to be overcome faster than any doctor would predict or advise.
Recently he reeled off his medical record: "I've broken bones in my ankle, I've broken my tibia and fibula, I've broken my wrists, I've fractured a couple of lower vertebrae, I've broken both shoulder blades, both my collar bones, my cheekbones and all my teeth are not mine any more."
In the same interview he said of his diet: "I'll treat myself to a steak a couple of times a year. But it'll sit in my stomach for days, my body can't deal with it."
In other sports we marvel at big numbers achieved through artistry and longevity. Roger Federer and Sachin Tendulkar spring to mind. We count wins in major tournaments, goals for Barcelona or Real Madrid (Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo), or drivers' titles in Formula One.
But none of today's skyscraper stats are more striking than those of McCoy, who will now fix his sights on 20 jockeys' titles and the 4,182 winners trained by Martin Pipe. For McCoy to ride more winners than the super-prolific Pipe was able to saddle in 32 years would be the last of his statistical targets.
Even the greatest sportsmen and women feel desire wane. Pain is one spur to retirement. Wealth is another. Repetition also plays a part in dulling joy.
McCoy has never offered one public hint that he is tired of being fired into the ground, rolled on by horses, kicked in the ribs or teeth or drenched by freezing winter rain. Each victory is a perfect, self-contained pleasure, pointing only to the next one. And now there are 4,000 of them.
There is nothing more commendable in sport. (© Daily Telegraph, London)